Last weekend, my church went to a nursing home (where we visit once a month) and sang carols with the residents. At which point, I realized that I’d never paused to look up the origin of the word!

Carol dates from around 1300, meaning, “a joyful song.” It came into being as a noun and a verb at around the same time, the verb meaning “to dance in a ring.” Etymologists aren’t entirely sure where the word comes from–the English is undoubtedly from the Old French carole, but before that, their best guess is that it’s from the Medieval Latin charaula (a dance to the flute), which is in turn from the Greek khoraules (flute player).

By the end of the 1300s, it was being used to mean “to sing with Joy or festivity” and was used particularly of joyful Christmas hymns by about 1500 onward.

It took a while, however, for the word to take on the meaning of “go around from place to place and sing Christmas carols.” That first appeared in 1879, though it was said at the time to be a revival of an old English custom.

Do you like to go caroling? Is it a traditional in your family or church? 

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